Review by George Kanzler, New York City Jazz Record
Charles Mingus said he wrote his suite, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963, Impulse!) “for dancing and listening.” Alto saxophonist Greg Ward has achieved that goal with Touch My Beloved’s Thought (taken from a line of poetry Mingus wrote for the 1963 album), composing and performing it in collaboration with the Onye Ozuzu Dancers in Chicago. Ward’s work is inspired by the seminal Mingus album, drawing themes and motifs from figures heard in fleeting passages, including from piano and trombones. But Ward isn’t just inspired by the earlier work, he’s also created a piece imbued with the Mingus aesthetic, full of such tropes and gestures as dynamic and tempo acceleration; multiple lines creating polyphony; solos building and being supported by growingly insistent, muscular ensemble backgrounds; and the controlled cacophony of ‘free’ group improvisation.
Like the Mingus inspiration, Ward’s suite coheres—with echoing themes and motifs—and flows along inexorably from the opening horn chorale prelude introducing the first riffy, rocking theme, “Daybreak”, to the final wailing calibrated saxophone chaos of the conclusion, some 50 minutes later, “Gather Round, The Revolution Is At Hand”. The nine dances/tracks range stylistically from a short burst (:46 seconds) of brass and drums free soloing, “Smash, Push, Pull, Crash”, to a compact 3:26 neo-hardbop ensemble piece with rhythm drop-outs and swinging baritone saxophone solo (Keefe Jackson). Along the way, Ward employs some of Mingus’ favorite time signatures, such as gospelly triple meters and even the flamenco rhythm Mingus injected into The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. However, Ward’s tentet, unlike the 11-piece unit on the Mingus album, does not include a guitarist. Admirably filling in and creating the flamenco feel is bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Marcus Evans. The latter is a standout throughout, his snare- and tom-dominated work as distinctive with 10 Tongues as Dannie Richmond’s was with the Mingus Jazz Workshop.
While this is indubitably an ensemble triumph, there are plenty of solo highlights: Dennis Luxion’s acappella piano on “Singular Serenade”; Ward’s alto, especially on “The Menacing Lean” and the final track; Tim Haldeman’s tenor saxophone romp through “Round 3”; and Beau LaMar Gay’s plunger-inflected cornet wails on “Dialogue of the Black Saint”.